Don’t hug your dog – it hates it, say animal psychologists
Published 26/04/2016 | 20:13
It may come as a shock to owners, but dogs hate being cuddled, a study has shown.
Animal psychologists say dogs feel stressed and unhappy when they are embraced by their owners, because it stops them being able to run away.
In a study which analysed 250 pictures of dogs as they were being hugged, eight out of 10 animals looked visibly uncomfortable.
Experts at The Kennel Club, and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, also agreed that owners should not treat their dogs like children, because most pets did not like to be cuddled.
The new study was carried out by Dr Stanley Coren, a canine expert and professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia.
He analysed images of dogs being hugged by adults and children he found on the Internet, looking for signs of stress.
At an extreme end, when a dog is especially anxious it bares its teeth or may bite, but Dr Coren said there are 'subtler indicators' that it may be uncomfortable.
Signs of stress include the dog folding its ears down, half-moon eyes or turning its head away to avoid eye contact. If the dog has its eyes closed or is licking his lips it could also be a sign of anxiety. Yawning or raising one paw is another warning sign.
Dr Coren found that in 81.6 per cent of the photographs the dogs had at least one sign of discomfort, stress, or anxiety. Only 7.6 per cent of the photographs showed comfortable dogs whilst the remaining 10.8 per cent were either neutral or ambiguous.
“Dogs are technically cursorial animals, which is a term that indicates that they are designed for swift running,” said Dr Coren wrote in an article in Psychology Today.
“That implies that in times of stress or threat the first line of defence that a dog uses is not his teeth, but rather his ability to run away.
“Behaviorists believe that depriving a dog of that course of action by immobilising him with a hug can increase his stress level and, if the dog's anxiety becomes significantly intense, he may bite.
“The clear recommendation to come out of this research is to save your hugs for your two-footed family members and lovers.
“It is clearly better from the dog's point of view if you express your fondness for your pet with a pat, a kind word, and maybe a treat'.
The advice was also repeated by animal experts in Britain who recommend ‘calm stroking’ of pets instead of a cuddle.
Claire Matthews, Senior Canine Behaviourist at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, says: “A hug might be a normal social greeting for humans but it isn’t for a dog.
“Subtle stress signals can be missed when you’re hugging your pet and this could lead to a negative reaction, so it’s about recognising when your dog is uncomfortable.
“Some people think that giving their dog a hug is a nice thing to do, but the reality is that a family pet will often tolerate a hug but doesn’t like it.
“When you hug a dog it usually show signs of stress because it invades their personal space – a person putting two arms around the neck of a dog can be interpreted as being intimidating and means that it can’t move away from the situation it is uncomfortable with.”
Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary added: “Dogs are often considered part of the family, however they are not human and may therefore react differently to certain interactions such as hugging.
“On the whole dogs are sociable animals and love interacting with people, but any action that restricts a dog’s movement could make them uncomfortable and it is important for an owner to recognise the signs of stress or anxiety.”